I often think people outside of our industry and even some inside forget a simple yet important truth: Coffee, when done on the level it can be done, is a craft.
A craft like metal working, being a carpenter, or being a chef. No one can expect to bust into the coffee scene and be able to understand, let alone perform on the level of a committed veteran. There is too much to this craft for that. I am still learning, a lot. Ten plus years in and many different learning experiences later, I am still a sponge. I am still analyzing, re-imagining and applying in different ways.
At the end of the day, how good you are will come down to your dedication, discipline, awareness, and ultimately time. If you are coming into this industry looking to be truly good then plan on it taking awhile. A long while. Do you think anyone gets to a professional level in sports quickly and without practice? Can you take all the supplements in the world to become a bodybuilder but never work out? Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Take a look at who you look up to in your industry...there’s a reason most barista competition winners are the most seasoned and dedicated. There is an inherent factor that comes with experience.
An amazing Michelin star chef, is never simply reading a from a recipe and putting it on a plate. They are focused, understanding how each part of what they do will all come together to make something amazing. They are partially doing this because of soul, artistry and intuition. They are also putting this all together in a way experience has taught he/she to do so. They know what makes their dishes taste precisely the way they do and are in tune with taste, textures, aromatics, visual aesthetic, and overall synergy of their compositions. They are mastering their craft.
Craft baristas learn each coffee and don't solely rely on tools to create amazing drinks and experiences. Craft baristas see extractions of espresso in motion and know visually when to stop them based on the flow rate. The best craft baristas don't pull every shot exactly the same no matter what the case; they make the right style of espresso for the right drink to ensure the best overall quality. The best craft baristas know the difference in flavor from a 19g gram input to a 19.2g input. They know that the 30g shot that is missing sweetness and finish can be changed dramatically by getting 2g more or less in volume out.
This is craft to me. It's not easy. It's utilizing tools but imparting your understanding on these tools to create. Why is this so important to me?
I want our industry to be seen on a different level than "baristas make coffee."
I want the average person to understand differences in coffee as completely as I understand a lager from an IPA, or a Cabernet from a Chardonnay.
I want to stop being annoyed that amazing chefs with amazing restaurants care about all products except coffee.
I know there are challenges to this ideal but I'm dedicated to breaking down these barriers.
So, young barista, if you think you want to fast track your way to the top of your game or, if being a personality - being famous/popular or money is why you got into this industry I encourage you to take a step back and think about what made you fall in love with coffee in the first place. I urge you to commit and push yourself for the greater good of the industry and ultimately for the people coming through your doors. The entire culture can shift. It's ultimately up to us. Let's do it.